Officials in Moscow have carried out unannounced inspections at campaigning organisations, including the offices of Human Rights Watch and the corruption watchdog Transparency International.
President Putin suspects non-governmental organisations of being a front for foreign meddling in Russian affairs. The inspections have been going on for months.
The director of Transparency International Russia, Elena Panfilova complained: “This is wrong and politically short-sighted. To put pressure on human rights and anti-corruption organisations in the country is a sure sign of a corrupt campaign.”
The governments of France and Germany expressed disquiet after several French and German organisations were inspected. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office said “criminalising the NGO’s important activities” degrades relations with Moscow.
The founder of the NGO Civic Assistance, Svetlana Gannushkina said: “This is undoubtedly to put pressure on civil society. There is no rhyme nor reason – these inspections are being carried out en masse. No-one here was told anything, it came out of the blue. We are not working against our government. I’m afraid it’s our government which is working against our people.”
After Putin’s return to power last year, a new law required all NGO’s with foreign funding that engage in political activity to register as “foreign agents”.
Last month he urged the security service the FSB to focus on those groups.